The Chicago White Sox are about to get a major reinforcement in their shattered outfield.
Adam Engel, who has been on the shelf since mid-spring training with a strained hamstring, is heading for a rehab assignment with Triple-A Charlotte. He will start playing on Tuesday.
“I’m really, really excited to be back there,” Engel said on Sunday. “I was joking today, I never imagined my first game of the year would be in Norfolk, Va. But that’s how I’m going to go there and prepare to come back.”
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Engel and the White Sox didn’t expect his absence to last this long, but a setback revealed he had a complete separation of a muscle and tendon, Engel said, forcing a long delay in his back to the club.
In the meantime, he has become an immense need, with starting left defender Eloy Jiménez and starting center-back Luis Robert suffering from their own serious injuries that stunned them for months. Engel, who was slated to be the White Sox’s fourth outfielder before the start of the season, has the numbers to lean heavily on to replace injured mid-order bats.
“The outfield is what I felt the start of the season was going to be one of the strengths of this team and a really stable part of the production side of this club, not just point. defensive point of view, but obviously offensively. Having lost three outfielders, basically it’s obviously difficult, “said Engel.” It was difficult to sit still and not be able to do my job. And I think little no matter who you are or what your job is, if you’re on the sidelines wishing you could go back, it’s always difficult.
With Engel unable to fill at this point, Tony La Russa used a committee approach for both of these positions, although rookie Andrew Vaughn absorbed the majority of playing time on the left, especially as his bat ran out. warmed up. Others like Leury García, Billy Hamilton and even outfielders like Jake Lamb and Danny Mendick made frequent starts, which they obviously weren’t supposed to do in spring training.
Engel had a great offensive season in 2020, his bat starting to make up for the great job he did with his glove throughout his time in the big leagues. He hit .295 with a base percentage of .333, hitting north of .500 with an .837 OPS against right-handed pitch.
Despite the tough first two games of their current three games in New York City, the White Sox have been one of the most productive offensive clubs in baseball for the first two months of the season. Still, they entered Sunday’s game with an OPS of .100 points less against right-handers than against left-handers. Engel’s return to the lineup could help boost that number.
“It would be a boost in all directions, because the No.1 is a very good player, who will help us win offensively and defensively. He is also one of the guys with strong chemistry, family guys on this team, ”La Russa said. “There are a lot of games we’ve played where he was in rehab, and when he’s there, like he was, it’s better. It’s going to be a big day the day he comes back.
“The priority is very clear: the day he returns, we must hold him back.”
While less impactful than the potential returns of Jiménez and Robert late in the season, Engel’s return is huge for a White Sox team who have kept their World Series dreams afloat amid those critical injuries on the pitch. . While he certainly has the ability to play all three outfield spots and will likely be used in all three, he will be primarily used to stabilize center field with Robert sidelined and Vaughn still doing a good job at left.
La Russa added that Engel will be closely watched to ensure he remains in good health while playing an important role for the team.
“I think center field would be the priority. I just think it’s the second priority,” said the South Side skipper. “The first priority is, when he comes back, what’s his activity regimen? Watch him closely.… You’re going to have to be careful, lean on him to be honest about how he’s feeling. that he doesn’t want to get hurt again.
“How many times he plays, we’re going to watch him closely day by day.”